This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Brennan Murray.
The return of fresh legs can have a resounding impact on a tired team.
After falling victim to undefeated conference rival St. Bonaventure Saturday, the Colonials (11-12) returned to the Smith Center Wednesday afternoon to face yet another A-10 foe in Xavier. But whereas only six players had dressed in the losing effort against the Bonnies, and in the two games prior, nine dressed for Wednesday’s game against the Musketeers.
The added depth was a welcome change for both the Colonials’ coaching staff and the rest of GW’s healthy players, pushing the team to a 55-44 win over Xavier.
“It was a total team win,” head coach Mike Bozeman said. “I knew this was an important game for us as we try to position ourselves to make a good run for the playoffs. Those returning guys are progressively getting to the point where they can give us more minutes.”
Returning to the Colonials’ bench after sustaining an ankle contusion and a sprained ankle respectively, were junior forward Shi-Heria Shipp and sophomore forward Chelisa Painter, who both saw minutes early on in the first half. Though readjusting to the system presented its difficulties, both players were able to contribute, garnering a combined six rebounds on the day. Freshman guard, Bria Bourgeois, though also dressed to play, did not see any minutes.
“In all honesty, and to credit them, they are still hobbled. But they wanted to come out and see if they could give a couple of minutes breather to the other guys,” Bozeman said. “They knew they weren’t a 100 percent but they wanted to come in and give the available six a break.”
As the first half got underway, the Colonials wasted no time setting the game’s tempo. They forced two quick Xavier turnovers and sunk their first two shots, one a long-range three-pointer from junior guard Danni Jackson, who ended the day with a game-high 22 points and a career-high five treys. Smothering defense on the other end allowed the Colonials to dominate possession from the start, and after only three and a half minutes of play, GW was up 8-2.
Though the Colonials remained strong defensively, they slumped on the offensive towards the end of the first. Despite playing fluid basketball, and finding many open looks, missed shots gave the Muskateers a 20-19 lead with under a minute to play on the first. It was a lead backed up by Xavier’s defense, holding GW to a mere 27.3 field goal percentage in the first half.
It looked as if GW would enter the half down a point to their A-10 rival. But then, Jackson sank a long, arching three that sank through the net at the buzzer – and the Colonials had a two-point lead going into the break.
“I actually make buzzer beaters a lot in practice,” Jackson said. “I just shot it, followed it, and it went in the basket.”
The momentum from Jackson’s basket carried through the half, and, the Colonials exploded out of the break on a 7-0 run. GW shot an improved 35.7 percent from the field on the second, and backed up their offensive front with an impressive defensive display. The Colonials forced 17 Xavier turnovers on the day while holding the Musketeers field goal conversions at just 25.8 percent, the third time this season that the Colonials have held their opponents to a below 30 percent shooting effort.
Going up by as many as 13 points in the latter part of the second half, the Colonials found themselves in a comfortable spot as the game neared its final minutes. Freshman forward Chakecia Miller added 15 points, and redshirt junior forward Brooke Wilson helped GW maintain its footing with a record-setting rebounding performance, compiling a career-high 18 rebounds, which tied the A-10 single-game record so far this season.
“Honestly, I’ve always liked to jump. I haven’t really been consistently rebounding over the last few games, but to get a big rebounding game like that builds by confidence heading into the upcoming games,” Wilson said. “When I’m not rebounding, I’m not helping out my teammates.”
Bozeman, happy to see his team progressing and players returning little by little, already has his sights set on postseason play. The Colonials are back in action Saturday, hosting Richmond at 2 p.m., and Bozeman is confident his renewed roster will only further its play.
“I like we’re we are. I think we’re rounding into pretty good form heading down the home stretch, and I’m excited to see what we can do when we get to the playoffs,” said Bozeman.